Thousands expected to protest in Indonesia after week of violence
August 26, 2019 | 2:38 PM
by Agencies
Image credits: @KenRoth/Twitter.

Jakarta: Thousands of protesters were expected to take to the streets in six regions of West Papua on Monday, one week after violent demonstrations flared across Indonesia’s easternmost provinces, leaving one dead and dozens injured.

Activists expect thousands will join the protests as the population of highland areas is largely comprised of indigenous Papuans, compared with coastal towns such as Jayapura, where migrants from across Indonesia make up half of the population.

The planned action follows a week of rolling and in some cases violent demonstrations across West Papua sparked by an incident in the Javanese city of Surabaya where military officers and nationalist militia allegedly taunted Papuans with racist slurs, calling them “monkeys”, “pigs” and “dogs”.

Footage of the incident quickly went viral and has ignited widespread anger across West Papua, culminating in mass protests and renewing calls for independence.

In the capital of Jayapura, Papuans who spoke to the press were furious, saying they had long been discriminated against and treated as second-class citizens. Victor Yeimo, a pro-independence figure, said people were angry not “just because they call us monkeys, but because they [Indonesia] treat us like animals”.

At church services in the hills of Sentani on Sunday morning, pastors gave impassioned sermons denouncing racism they say Papuans have long endured, while across Jayapura banners have been strung up calling for racist actions to be rejected.

Prominent pro-independence figures in Papua said the Surabaya incident opened up historical wounds that had festered since the province was brought under Indonesian control in 1969.

The expected protests on Monday come as the Indonesian government clampdown on the internet in the region continued. A spokesperson for the Papua police, Ahmad Kamal said that that internet services would continue to be limited for another week to prevent the spread of “fake news”.

When protests erupted in Jayapura last Monday, the government slowed internet speeds. Data services were cut completely by Wednesday.

Papuans were preparing to rally in the remote highland areas of Wamena, Yahukimo, Deiyai, Paniai and Pegunungan Bintang on Monday.

Markus Haluk from the United Movement for the Liberation of West Papua, said protesters had already tarted to gather in Wamena on Monday morning.

Haluk said the internet shutdown was “part of the military operation because the Indonesian military always finds a way to isolate Papua and stop Papuan voices being shared with the world.”

Local journalists have decried the blackout, saying it has made it increasingly difficult to verify information in the field at a critical time, while thousands signed a petition calling for services to be restored.

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